Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing

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In case you missed it the finale of BBC drama ‘The Missing’ wrapped up last night and it was a huge ratings hit bringing in 6.6 million viewers or 28.5% of the UK’s TV audience. It was such a hit that already season two is on the way. Was it actually any good though? Not really

When you are writing a missing person story like ‘The Missing’ there are two ways to go at things. Either you write a character piece where you focus on the trauma and pain of the crime. Solving the actual mystery isn’t the point. Alternatively, you write a puzzle piece, a true mystery story where each detail of the plot slots together with a clever intricate beauty.

Both stories can be great. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ does the character piece brilliantly and you don’t have to look further than Agatha Christie to see how great a pure mystery can be. Mismatches of the two however tend to end up falling between two horses. Unfortunately, ‘The Missing’ did just this and ends up getting trampled under the weight of its own ambition.

The Character Piece

Anchored by brilliant acting from James Nesbit ‘The Missing’s’ strength has been showing how characters can get trapped in the past and struggle to move on with their lives.

Understandably, Nesbit’s character Tony Hughes is unwilling to move on from the kidnapping of his son. His ex-wife tries to move on but she is also trapped by the past. The detective Baptiste is trapped by previous trauma also not only from his injured leg but also from his drug addict daughter. The pedophile Vincent Bourg is similarly trapped by his past/character and ultimate hangs himself.

You could go through pretty much every character in ‘The Missing’ and find how they are held hostage by demons that trace back in one way or another to the disappearance of Oliver Hunt.

As the series wraps up some of the characters move on from the past and others don’t. The character arks of almost every character are done well. Every character that is except the protagonist Tony Hughes.

The problem with Tony Hughes is that he is the driving force of the story the protagonist. It is Tony whose refusal to let go of the past that begins and continues the story.

Tying up the solution to the disappearance and Tony’s character are interlinked and the writers never seem to decide whether they are telling a mystery or a character piece. The end result is that they do neither and it is unsatisfying.

As the finale enters it’s third act Tony’s character starts to unravel. At first Tony seems to accept Baptiste’s maxim that he will never know the whole truth and it is time to move on. We see real personal growth for Tony.

After much soul searching, brilliantly acted soul searching, Tony Hughes decides not to tell the wife that her dying husband killed Olly he decides not to take some measure of petty vengeance. Similarly, at the wedding when the detective calls lets it go to voicemail. He is no longer chasing after every impossible clue.

The Plot

That all seems okay. What could be the problem? The problem comes with how this intersects with the plot i.e. it doesn’t. To hook the viewer into watching the episode the writers opened the finale with a cryptic scene is Russia where a lone figure is trooping through the snow and staring at children. After a minute or so the camera zooms in and we see a picture of a stick kid with big ears traced onto snowy glass. In other words it was drawn by Olly.

This scene deliberately draws you in. Doubly so since we are very deliberately not shown the face of the lone figure. WTF?

Ultimately, though it turns out that the writers have played a trick on us. After seeming to have let go of the past Tony is still hunting his son. All his character development has been tossed away in order to deliver a cheap hook to keep us watching.

If the writers want to leave Tony trapped in the past then they should never had this opening scene. They should never had given us any answers to Oliver’s disappearance.

Or even better if they want to give answers about Oliver’s disappearance then Tony should have ended up in prison for the murder of Ian Garret. Just imagine he goes to chase down a final lead that will lead him towards his son but then the police turn up to arrest him. Tony’s past, the understandable sins he committed, have caught up with him and for a kicker the police don’t believe his lead.

In the end though the writers attempt to split the difference. As a result the mystery of disappearance isn’t satisfyingly told and neither is the character journey of Tony Hughes.

‘The Missing’ then fails to deliver the ending that it promised.

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Paxman documentary attempts nationalist whitewash

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

Rah Rah Britain. God save the Empire. God save the King

It’s the 100 anniversary of WW1. A conflict that did more to shape the world we live in today than any other single conflict or event in the last century. Possibly even the last half a millennium. WW1 deserves to be remembered and discussed. Lessons should be learned from it.

Before going onto the discuss the documentary I should probably just express my own understanding of WW1. I enjoy reading about history. I have read enough about the subject to get a somewhat detailed but in no way expert idea of it. WW1 was on balanced caused by German’s who wanted to the war and they should bare a lot of responsibility for it. There were however, perfectly valid reasons for Germany’s actions in triggering the war. British politician’s going back to the 1890s deserve blame for the decisions they made that stoked the fires of the conflict.

So in general Germany did want the war to get ‘a place in the sun’ but there is enough blame and incompetence with the Russian, French and British leadership to show them as the upper class insular twits that they were. Now onto the documentary.

Jeremy Paxman’s documentary is a complete failure to analyse and understand WW1. It is an attempt at an historical whitewash. It is inaccurate and grating. Let’s begin with the presentation of the program starting with the music.

The music sweeps from being triumphalist when Britain is going well to being downbeat when it is feels a more sombre moment is called from. It is blatant emotional manipulation. It is stomach churning. It is like this supposedly serious documentary has been scored by John Williams.

Now lets turn to Paxman himself. He is an excellent quiz show presenter on University Challenge and interviewer for Newsnight. His strength is his sneering put downs and sarcastic quips. Shorn of this for his documentary narration skills his delivery is poor. Although I am sure he is sincere he seems unable to convey this to the camera. Added to this is the fact that he is not a professional historian or even lover of WW1 history and boy does this fact show.

Britain is painted as hapless victim. The show accepts that Britain had the “greatest empire the world has ever seen” but still paints us as the plucky underdogs who had never fought a war anywhere. There is some truth to this narrative in terms of the size of the BEF compared to Germany’s force at the outbreak of war, but this fact is grossly and distortingly overplayed.

hardcore historyIt is important to remember that the BEF were the only wholly professional force at the outbreak and that the defensive was king in this war. These factors allowed the BEF to punch above its numbers. If you want to find out more about this I would recommend Dan Carlin’s ongoing series on WW1 which makes this Paxman documentary look like it was made by a child.

The show focuses on the drive to recruit volunteers to the the army. It paints this in gloriously patriotic terms. The men who signed up were patriots. At no point however, does Paxman look at how this patriotism was being manipulated. Streets were cornered off for recruitment and bands played. The establishment was recruiting cannon fodder by putting on a show. Paxman fails to investigate how this was done and what were the motives of the authorities that did so. He doesn’t do this because it is ‘A’ to clever for this show and ‘B’ might present the British establishment in a less than glowing light.

The low point of the show is the description of Lord Kitchener as an “intensely moral man”. Kitchener spent his military career killing off ‘natives’ in colonial wars and believed in ‘the white mans burden’ and such racist nonsense. He cannot by any modern standard be described as “intensely moral”. He is also the idiot who came up with the idea of ‘pal’s battalion’ to increase recruitment, because why not kill off as many member of one community together all at once. The show of course fails to examine the concept of “Pal’s battalions” in any seriousness.

I will give some credit to the show though. The photography of WW1 it uses is top notch. It did give a sense of the times. It was clear that the full weight of the BBC was behind its production. It also showed me just how much like Lord Kitchener Stephen Fry’s Blackadder looked. Their mustaches really did match. So bravo Stephen Fry.

Also the coverage of the shelling of the coast of Britain by the German Navy was something I had never heard of. It’s just a shame that Paxman and the BBC didn’t put the materials to better use.

If you want an interesting and thoughtful pop culture examination of WW1 try both the podcasts ‘When Diplomacy Fails’ and Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History”. Both of these are more accurate, balanced and interesting than the jingoistic nonsense that the BBC has put out in this documentary.

Sadly, I fear this documentary has set the tone for the £50 million plus that has been green lit to remember WW1.

2 out of 5 stars (It only gets 2 stars for the excellent original pictures used)